Online exam blues leave tech students red-faced

Online exam blues leave tech students red-faced

By Sambit Dash

The online examination plan of Biju Patnaik University of Technology (BPUT) for its undergraduate and post-graduate students, scheduled to start from July 9, has run into rough weather.

The university had announced a couple of weeks ago that it would conduct such examinations for its students but when the infrastructural requirements were spelt out recently in a 35-item long list, protests from the student community flared up. The students claimed that these requirements are hard to meet.

The university has offered an option for students to appear for the test when the institutions reopen in case they are dissatisfied with the current system. There are more than 25,000 students in Odisha who have been asked to take Multiple Choice Question (MCQ)-based examination. One of the major concerns during this pandemic has been education for our young, and especially conducting the examinations, right from school level to universities.

Shift towards digital education

At a time when schools and colleges are shut due to the spread of Covid-19, a massive shift towards digital education has taken place. EdTech, a loose term for educational technology which encompasses wide ranging applications, has mushroomed. EdTech promised to solve the current problems, from online classes to evaluation. However, in the melee to adopt EdTEch, key elements have been ignored by education bosses and institutions.

In what is genuinely a key concern of students regarding the online examination by BPUT, infrastructural requirements are tough to meet. The university, which is employing an artificial intelligence proctored platform, expects students to maintain an internet speed of 1 Mbps, three hours of continuous electricity and is allowing a 15-minute hiatus to re-login in case of internet outage.

The reality of internet infrastructure does not match up to the demands. Internet penetration in India stands at a modest 38 per cent. Odisha paints a poor picture with only 28.22 per cent of population having internet connection. A huge disparity is seen between urban and rural Odisha.

For 83.3 per cent population who have access to internet in urban Odisha, the number drops drastically to 16 per cent in rural Odisha. An NSS report on education in 2017-18 further paints a grim picture by stating that only 31.2 per cent of households in urban and 5.8 per cent households in rural Odisha have internet facility. Post pandemic, the use of internet has increased dramatically by about 15 per cent while infrastructure has remained static.

In 2016, Odisha Government, in an effort to boost digital banking, requested the Union Government to facilitate upgradation of telecom infrastructure and internet penetration, for, even in pockets of Bhubaneswar, there were banking failures due to poor capacity in the domains.
The university should have ideally conducted a survey seeking demographic details of students vis-a-vis the facilities available with them. The assumption that students being students would decline examinations is misplaced as it is a matter of grave concern for them too, as the final year examinations is linked to their future and higher education, jobs, etc.

The process of evaluation

There is a deeper educational concept about evaluation that is at the bottom of these conflicts. Our education system depends largely on summative assessment, which is exam at the end of the academic calendar to evaluate the student. While in the recent past, a push for the other type of assessment, such as formative assessment, has been made through continuous assessment in school education, higher education has been reluctant in adopting such a method. One disadvantage of summative assessment has emerged in this pandemic. And that is the inability to
conduct exams. Other than that, the dependence on single test to evaluate years of scholarship of a student does not do justice to the merit of students.

In formative assessment, the student is evaluated at multiple steps throughout the academic programme and this process offsets the risk of single examination. Class tests, semester exams, practical exams, all contribute to continuous evaluation. This is one of the demands of students that instead of holding one final examination, pro rating previous examination marks could save the trouble of scampering for internet connectivity or crowding at nearby internet parlours, thereby increasing the risk during Covid-19.

The philosophy of assessment is crucial here. We have been conditioned with one particular type of assessment. The shift to digital system in education during this pandemic is at best grabbing the low hanging fruit – that of replicating what was done face-to-face. Conducting examination with a proctoring system, that is, an examiner seeing the candidate through the camera, is a result of such conditioning. The rigid regulatory structure in higher education does not help either. A greater autonomy, with accountability of course, would help in breaking free from stereotypes in education. Until then, such conflicts are bound to occur.

__ The author is Senior Grade Lecturer, Department of Biochemistry, Melaka Manipal Medical College (Manipal Campus). He comments on public policy, healthcare and issues of social interest. He tweets at @sambit_dash

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